“Question everything generally thought to be obvious.” – Dieter Rams
In a preschool classroom you might find sensory materials, loose parts, a calm down area, natural materials, writing and drawing materials. You might watch the children participate in show and tell, letter of the day, soccer or music class.
I have many of those things in my classroom. But I think it is always valuable to question everything we do – especially if we have done these things for a long time. When does something lose intention? After doing it for ten, twenty years with every preschool classroom perhaps?
If asked the benefits of these things we could rattle of answers. But what we should really ask is how could these things not be helpful? Is this part of the child’s agenda, or the adults? Why are we actually doing this?
“The answers you get depend on the questions you ask.” – Thomas Kuhn
We don’t have a “quiet area” because the children use their cubbies if they need space. Also, this isn’t a classroom of children that typically need a quiet space. I did however just set up this table of story stones because the class loves using these, and I thought having a designated area to do so would be beneficial to them. The story stones were also created to support the children’s interest in storytelling – which is now a formal project work group in our classroom.
We don’t really have a lot of loose parts in our classroom, especially our block area. Our class likes to build big, usually using just the big hollow locks to create tall towers to sit or stand on. The only loose parts we keep out is a small basket of wood scraps they painted, and a basket of stones similar to the story stones but with lines on them instead of pictures.
Our art materials are limited, and rotating. We had out cutting materials when M was going through an exploration of cutting. Now we have out cut up flowers and natural materials along with drawing materials to support the children who love still-life drawing. Nature is a huge part of our classroom culture. A third of the class spent last year working in our school’s garden, and the rest spent the beginning of this year doing the same. Nature is valuable to us, and there is intention behind putting nature as inspiration in the art area.
Our sensory table most of the year has been limited as we don’t have many children who have a huge need for sensory input. Most of the time the sensory table was interest based – washing baby dolls, sea animals in the water, dry lands animals in sand. Now we have a G who is in our room for 2-3 hours three times a week who is in need of a lot of sensory input. Now, I try to always have out at least one sensory table with materials like above – water, foam circles, and colored beads, which G spent at least an hour at for three days.
This cardboard tube used to have thick fabric hanging on it for use with the light projector. Once the interest in light waned we took it down. It was no longer intentional. In fact I found myself putting things out that looked really awesome, then wondering why no one was playing with it. Last night I attached various types of sturdy rope and thick cords for pulling, which is also a type of physical work our friend G, and others, seem to be showing a need for. This isn’t something I would do for every classroom – but right now we have a need for it. Speaking of which…
We got an exercise ball, also for some great physical output. We have spent the last two weeks learning how to roll on top of it, balancing and communicating while on top. We have used it to push, throw, roll, hit, bounce. This ball is helpful for us. It can cause too much exertion at times, which makes it a controversial piece. But for now, I see the intention behind it in this room, with these kids.
We put tables on the carpeted side of our classroom (whereas they are usually on the tiled side for provocations, snack, or lunch) because these kids are exploring power and height. Because we trust these children to be in charge of their bodies, to take risks they feel ready for, and to be flexible with materials (knowing when to stand on a table and when not to – such as when we are all eating lunch). This has helped their exploration of social power, and how that correlates with height and size immensely the last few months. Will I do the same thing next year? Maybe, maybe not.
“It’s our intention. Our intention is everything. Nothing happens on this planet without it. Not one single thing has ever been accomplished without intention.” – Jim Carrey
Whether we decide what our intention is or not – we have one. It is important to recognize what our intention is, because regardless, what we do will affect the children. We once put out a sign-in area. It fizzled out, because the reality was it had too much adult agenda, with maybe an iota of the children’s. When things fizzle out, or seem to be struggling – question the intention behind that thing.
I was once told that if your children don’t want to sit still for something, they aren’t interested. This was years ago, pre-Reggio, when I was still doing circle times with calendar, finger plays, good morning songs, storytime, letter of the day, shape of the day…whew. No wonder that was always awful.
I have been on a long journey since then, trying to ensure I am doing everything with the children in mind, always. Not first, but only.